Most people know that broadband speed can vary, depending on the amount of traffic that’s moving across the shared connection at any time. This is call ‘contention’. And let’s be clear, unless you have a dedicated leased line, you will always be sharing the physical connection with other businesses and users in the locality. The communications infrastructure is similar to the road and motorway network. Many smaller roads lead you onto bigger roads and main routes on which all traffic that needs to move from one major hub to another will run.
The number of businesses that share your physical connection to the main network may be many of it may be few, depending on the service option you have chosen. It’s a good idea to ask about the contention ratio that the supplier expects you to have on your service when you are researching your options.
By the way, a leased line is the ideal option if you want to be sure that you will always have the speed and bandwidth you need, available all the time – both upstream and downstream. But a leased line will be expensive, and only larger businesses tend to be able to have a requirement and a budget for them.
For most businesses, a broadband connection will be more than enough – as long as you take care to choose the right option for your business (our Top tips for switching your business broadband might help here).
But there are many other ways in which broadband performance can be impacted and improved at work, some of which we have detailed below. Remember, it may not always be the broadband itself that is the cause of sluggish performance or delayed responses.Back to top
How to test your broadband speed
The first thing you should always do is check the actual speed that you are getting from your broadband service. This is easy to do – just so a Google search for ‘broadband speed test’ and you’ll have a whole list of options. The one we recommend is https://www.broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk/ but any of the independent checkers will do a good job for you.
Ideally, the download and upload speeds that you record when you use these sites will be a close match to the speeds that your service provider has told you to expect. If they are not, you need to go back to them and find out why. There may be a simple reason such as a misconfiguration or a small issue with the connection in the local cabinet.
Before you do this though, run the speed check at different times of the day. The levels of contention on the line will vary at different times of the day. You may find that the connection is faster first thing in the morning than it is in the early afternoon, for example. If you can pass this information to your service provider, it may help them to find a solution.Back to top
Tips for improving your broadband speed and boosting Wi-Fi:
There are a few ways in which you can try to improve the speed of your broadband. You can use some form of accelerator (see below) or you can just switch provider (see the separate page in this in the Guide section) of course. Beyond that, there is not that much you can do yourself – aside from checking the speed and nagging your service provider if it is not up to scratch – except to make sure that it is not being used for unnecessary or non-business traffic (such as video streaming services and social media, for example).
There is, however, quite a lot you can do to improve the performance of your own network and Wi-Fi.Back to top
Move your router
It is easy to assume that the best place for a broadband router (the box that brings the broadband signal into the building and usually also acts as your WiFi hub) is right next to the connection in the wall. However, this is almost always not the ideal location, as it will often be in a corner of an office or reception area, where the wall socket will be unobtrusive and out of sight.
Unfortunately, this probably also one of the worst possible sites for a WiFi router or hub. To get the best wireless signal over the widest possible area the router really needs to be in as open and central a position as possible – and not on the floor or too close to a wall, where it can be susceptible to interference from cables and other radio signals.
If possible, position the router on a desk or a shelf in an elevated position – especially if your offices run over two floors. If you have a fairly extensive premises, you will need some way to extend the signal to other areas of the building and we’ve provided a number of suggestions as to how you can do this below.Back to top
Secure your Wi-Fi
It is well worth making sure your WiFi is secure. Doing so may well help performance, although it can also add to the level of traffic running across the WiFi network, so you need to look at this with care – especially if you have a lot of users and guests.
In theory, everyone who connects should at least know the passwords of key that secures your network, but it is possible to by-pass this by using the WPS connection – that’s how you’d connect your printer, for example. Also, the password is usually printed in quite big letters on the back of a router – it would be quite easy for someone to grab a photo of it.
Also, anyone who has ever logged onto the Wi-Fi network will be able to do so again whenever they are in range – they would not necessarily need to be in the building. And that log-on information will be stored on their mobile or laptop, so someone who knows how to, could copy the pass key.
All this may sound a little paranoid but there are two levels on which you should be concerned. First, that someone else or several people could be gate-crashing onto your Wi-Fi network and surreptitiously using your broadband. Second, that someone with malicious intent and the skills to access business and personal data may be able to infiltrate your network via WiFi.
How can you secure your WiFi, there are a number of ways and the simplest is probably to purchase a router that comes with the ability to setup different SSIDs i.e. WiFi networks with separate log-ons and a captive portal i.e. a page through which they have to provide their name and a separate password in order to log on.
You can also so this with some access points (see below) and by deploying a security gateway between the router and the broadband connection. The latter will inspect all traffic for potential threats and hazards.Back to top
Get an access point(s)
An access point is a way of extending the coverage area of your wireless network. It is connected to your router – and thus to the broadband by cable and thus provides really good coverage from a central point. You will really need to deploy one or many access points if you have an extensive area to cover with WiFi. It will be the best way to ensure good coverage for groups of people who are connecting some distance away from the router.Back to top
Consider a mesh Wi-Fi network
A mesh is a small network of interconnected routers and access points that will ensure you get consistent and reliable coverage over the whole area over which you need to provide wireless cover. Most of the devices in a mesh network does not need to be connected via Ethernet cable. Instead, they user wireless technology to open up dedicated bandwidth between themselves and thus provide consistent performance for all users across the entire wireless network.
A mesh is ideal where you perhaps have three or four stories of a building to cover, or a non-uniform set of rooms where there may easily be the odd ‘dead spot’ for WiFi. It will ensure consistent and reliable speeds for all users.Back to top
Get a Powerline adapter
If you just have one office or room that is located some distance from the router and cannot pick up a decent wireless signal as a result, a Powerline adapter is a really simple and affordable alternative.
You simply plug it into the wall in the room or location where you want to improve reception. The adapter will then use your electrical circuit to carry data over power lines, giving you a faster connection in that location. There are Powerline adapter kits for wired and wireless connections – you just need to select the one that’s right for your circumstances.Back to top
Clean up your computer(s)
It sounds obvious but you would be surprised at how much of a difference it can make if you take the trouble to clean up unused or unwanted apps and files from your PCs and laptops, or if you have them, your servers and networks. You may well need the help of an expert to do this, but you can certainly do simple things like defragmenting your hard drive and just deleting, uninstalling or archiving apps and data you do not use or need to have immediately available.Back to top
Swap wireless for wired
One really simple way to improve performance is to use hard-wired connections instead of relying on Wi-Fi. Although a wireless connection will give most users adequate speed most of the time, the further away from the router or access point a user is, and the more people there are logged onto and using the WiFi, the more performance is going to degrade. An Ethernet cable, however, will carry the signal at a much higher speed and ensure that the user gets the performance they need.
It’s hard to remember that there was a time when all networks had to be hard-wired in this way, and if you have a fixed location where you always work – on a desktop or a laptop, it’s still the best way to connect to a network if you want to ensure you get the very best and most reliable performance.Back to top
Try a broadband accelerator
Interference from phone cables or other electrical wires inside walls or located near to the router can cause problems for broadband connections. You can purchase a filter or accelerator device that will eliminate any such possibility and also stabilise your connection and make it more reliable. If there appears to be no other reason for performance dropping or you are having intermittent problems, this is certainly worth a try.Back to top
If your broadband is slower than it really ought to be – and you can’t get any joy out of your service provider having run speed tests, you should switch supplier. There is a separate page in this guide section with advice about how to do this and it will be well worth the effort to get the improved performance you need.
However, it may just be that you have outgrown your current service and you need to upgrade, in which case, your current provider may be able to offer you a faster connection. That said, it is well worth checking out the options and seeing what else is on offer in your area.Back to top